As a pond retailer, it is important that you don’t hibernate for the winter. Now is the perfect time to start planning your 2008 pond department. Whether it is an aisle or a large portion of your retail space, your pond department should focus on your customers’ needs, and make it easy for them to find the right products the first time. Take the guesswork out of shopping in your store by planning your pond department before pond season is in full swing.
Start by visualizing changes you’d like to make in the layout of your pond department. Next, decide on a few creative ways to promote your department throughout the year. Then, determine what kind of publicity you will need in terms of advertising and public relations. Lastly, re-examine how you educate your customers both in and out of your store. Follow these four simple steps to a successful pond season:
Step 1: Planning Your Pond Department
Your customers look to you to be their expert in pondkeeping. In order to attract new customers and keep the regulars coming back, you must create a pond department that is easy to navigate and visually pleasing to your customer. Determine what space will be your “pond department” and post signs that clearly mark the space. Here are some ways you can dress up your department and enhance the shopping experience for your patrons.
• Visually build your pond department with existing well-branded point of purchase materials and product packaging for an impressive, cohesive look. Remember to ask your manufacturers for assistance – most welcome the opportunity to provide professional collateral or recommendations on creating billboards from boxes, or other strong visuals. Some may provide step-by-step brochures and guides that support your recommendations and help make their visions come to life.
• Whenever possible, arrange product bags upright to make a strong visual presence on the shelves. Consider creating end-cap displays using large buckets, boxes or product for high impact.
• Use life-size photography and posters of fish, aquatic plants and flowers, waterfalls and other features as a source of inspiration for shoppers.
• Consider where you place products. Keep consumables, such as fish food and water treatments, at eye level.
• Create a live display as room allows. It can be as elaborate as a full pond with fish and foliage or as simple as a water-spitting statue. The sight and sound of moving water draws customers in and helps them visualize and plan features for their home.
• Educate yourself on the newest products available, from food to equipment. Talk to your sales staff or regular customers to determine what products are cutting edge then set the trend in pondkeeping. Investigate the options, and then stock your shelves.
Step 2: In-Store Promotions
A well thought out and maintained pond department is the first step in creating more business for your store. Next, you must create a desire in your customers to take their hobby to the next level. The best way to do this is to promote the department in your store.
• Start having events in the pond department that customers can attend. Try a ‘how-to’ workshop on topics such as: laying out a pond, pond fish selection, cleaning and maintaining your pond, and more! Have customers sign up and provide valuable information such as their mailing address and email address for future promotions and seminars.
• Offer special incentives to your customers, with the goal that they come into your store 5-6 times each year. Try a customer appreciation social event in your store. Tie it into an anniversary or holiday. Invite customers to come in and see the latest products in pondkeeping. Use this opportunity to build a relationship with your pondkeepers.
• Develop a partnership with a local high school or middle school. Consider working with the science department to develop a ‘how-to’ workshop in the classroom. You can explain how a pond is built and the details on keeping fish healthy and happy throughout the year. Consider naming this “Future Pondkeepers of (name of school).” The students will gain knowledge about the hobby and you will gain future customers for your store.
• Cross-sell wherever possible. If you have containers in your store that are perfect for small ponds, but they are stocked in a different area than the pond department, consider placing a brochure or ‘take-one’ explaining how to create a container pond on this shelf. Spark an interest for first-time pondkeepers. Many may not realize how easy it is to create a backyard oasis.
• Consider a referral program for your customers. Develop a program that is easy for your pondkeepers. Let them know that for each person they refer to your store for a pond product, they will receive a chance to win a great product or service from you.
Step 3: Advertising and Publicity
Once you’ve set up your pond department and determined what types of events and giveaways you will have in your store, you must decide how you will advertise and publicize your offerings.
When determining where and how often to advertise, you should consider how you’ve obtained your customers in the past. Have many come in through word-of-mouth referrals? Or, did they see your ad in the local newspaper. Be sure to start asking new customers how they found you. Keep track of their responses and then make a decision on advertising. If you do decide to place an ad, be sure to discuss design and placement with the media outlet. Request a prominent location and consider placing the ad several times for a better impact. For television and radio, be sure it looks and sounds professional, upholding the image you’ve worked so hard to obtain.
Publicity is one of the most under-utilized tools for most business owners. Mainly because it isn’t their specialty and it’s hard to know where to start. Start thinking in terms of your customers needs. If you are holding a ‘how-to’ workshop in your store, send a press release with the details and specifics on the event. Give the local media a reason to come to one of your workshops. Showing children how to build a pond or container pond is a great human-interest story; don’t forget to toot your own horn!
[h]Step 4: Customer Education – In and Out of the Store[h]
As a retailer, you are aware of your responsibility to promote your products verbally to your customers. However, if your sales staff is one or two people, that may become a challenge. It may become increasingly hard to tell every customer about the pond products you stock as well as hear every problem they are having with their pond. You must remember to use your pond department to your advantage whenever possible.
• Consider creating a troubleshooting area in your pond department. This can be as simple as a three-ring binder. Type up some of your customers biggest problems from last season and add them to the book. Be sure to include solutions that include products you stock, making it even easier for your customers to find solutions. Call these sheets: (name of business) Pond Solutions.
• Offer to test customers’ pond water as a free service when they bring a sample of their pond water. It’s a beneficial value added service that helps build a relationship with the customer while creating a sense of expertise for you. Plus it provides retailers with the opportunity to provide a solution if the water needs a remedy.
• Have a clearly marked “Education Center” within your pond department and offer how-to books and inspirational magazines or guides that continually pique their interest.
• Offer a monthly or quarterly one-page newsletter that gives tips on anything from maintaining healthy, happy fish to choosing the right plants for a balanced ecosystem. Encourage customers to take a snapshot of their water gardening creations and post the photos on an in-store bulletin board or feature them in your newsletters. You can also offer this via email, as it is a preferred method for communication these days.
• Consider implementing directional signage in and out of the store. Start by placing a banner or lawn sign near the entrance to your store. Then, place a banner outside of the store, in the parking lot or near the entrance. Some manufacturers can provide banners to you as a part of their packaged program. Lastly, place signs in the store (above display height for easy visibility) directing customers to your pond department.
These four steps will help you to get organized this winter. If this is your off-season, be sure to take advantage of the time to plan your pond department. Remember, it does not need to be a huge portion of your store, an aisle or two will work just fine. Create a desire in your customers by cross-selling products. Showing how items can be paired together makes a home project (like installing a pond) much easier and more manageable.
Don’t forget to publicize and advertise your store and events. Make sure your community knows that they are welcome to come and see the benefits of pondkeeping for themselves. Once you have your potential customers in your store, ensure that you are ready for them by clearly marking the department. Make education a big part of how you do business. Help your pondkeepers understand that you are their partner in their hobby. They’ll be happy to know you are ready to help and advise at any moment. Position yourself this way and you will have loyal customers for years to come.